Results tagged ‘ Winter Meetings ’

Astros update from Winter Meetings

With Day 3 of the Winter Meetings getting underway Wednesday, here are few interesting Astros items:

This is what we know on Wednesday morning: the Astros clearly are ready to improve their second base situation, which is why they’ve made contact with Bill Hall. The scuttlebutt is manager Brad Mills is a fan of Hall and would like to add him to the mix next year. The Astros like Jeff Keppinger, but see him more of a utility-type player.

If the Astros add a player like Hall to a lineup that already includes newcomer Clint Barmes, the Astros are suddenly more interesting. They already have enough pitching to compete in the NL Central next year if things fall into place, but adding a pair of bats to the lineup – even if they’re not Pete Rose or Manny Ramirez – will be significant.

But general manager Ed Wade said adding one or two players is not going to be key for next year, and he’s right. The key pieces that are already in place, specifically Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, will have to perform from wire to wire.

“For us to move to the next level, it’s not going to be the addition of one guy at a position,” Wade said. “It gets repetitive, but it’s got to be Lee. If Carlos and Hunter get off to the type of start they’re capable of getting off to and [Chris] Johnson continues to do what he did last year, you’ve got three guys in the lineup right here all capable of hitting 25 or more home runs in knocking in a bunch of runs.

“It’s not like we’re in a position where we have to look at ourselves as necessarily a small-ball club. But we have to be more consistent from the standpoint of performance over the next six months, more consistent game-to-game, inning-to-inning. We have to be more selective at the plate and get more guys on base.

“Adding one particular player could help because that does have a domino effect on the lineup, but at the same time everybody needs to hit their mark. It can’t be, ‘We’ll ride this guy, we’ll ride that guy.’ It has to be collective.”

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Here’s what Wade said about the pursuit of a second baseman: “Even at second base, Kepp did a good job for us last year and we knew [Angel] Sanchez can go over and play second and Millsie likes Anderson Hernandez and we re-signed him. We have alternatives. If you look at our club, we’re committed to [Jason] Castro behind the plate. The first base situation will resolve in some fashion, hopefully with [Brett] Wallace being the guy.

“At shortstop, [Clint] Barmes is our guy. C.J. is our guy [at third]. If Carlos is in left, Carlos is our guy. And [Michael] Bourn and Pence [are established]. We started talking about where do you upgrade this thing? We have to look at a couple of the infield positions and say, ‘Is there something that incrementally gives us better run production and gives us that need? That’s sort of what we’re doing right now.”

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Wade expects his team to try to make a pick in the Rule 5 Draft, which is Thursday morning in the final event of the Winter Meetings. Houston’s 40-man roster stands at 36, so there’s room to add a player.

“We’ve gone through some preliminary discussions on the Rule 5 and we’ll have more substantive conversations,” Wade said. “There’s a possibility we could take somebody in the Rule 5 Draft. Unless things change, we’re at 36 and we should have room to make a pick if the right player or players is available.”

During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, players left unprotected may be selected for $50,000. The selection rules provide that a player must remain on the drafting team’s active Major League roster during the following season or be offered back to the original club at half the original price. The Astros pick ninth this year.

Internally, team officials aren’t too concerned about losing any players in the Draft.

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Wade told MLB.com last month the team was going to consider putting left-hander Fernando Abad and right-hander Henry Villar in the starting rotation. Villar’s stock has risen so much that he’s considered one of the club’s top three prospects.

Jordan Lyles, another one of the team’s top prospects, is likely to come to Spring Training to compete for the fifth starter job, perhaps along with Villar and Abad. Nelson Figueroa was signed to a $900,000 contract and will be in the mix for that spot.

“I’m always willing to listen and can be persuaded, but philosophically I’m of the mind that if a guy’s got a chance to be a good starting pitcher, you exhaust that opportunity before you decide to make him a bullpen guy,” Wade said. “I’d like to run the string out with the guys we have until we know they can’t. With the way we set up right now, Abad, if healthy, and he’s healthy right now – I always says that with pitchers – that’s a pretty significant left-handed arm in our bullpen. But if he can win 11 games in our starting rotation, we’ll figure out the left-handed, right-handed stuff to deal with.”

The Astros are still on the hunt for a low-cost starting pitcher, and despite recent reports don’t have “quiet interest” in not-very-low-cost Cliff Lee. That’s just not going to happen.

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Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith has been to nearly every Winter Meetings for the past 54 years and has seen incredible changes in the event. Smith missed a Winter Meetings in the early  1960s when he was involved in the building of the Astros.

“I can’t think of any others that I may have missed,” he said.

The biggest change Smith has seen has been a lack of personal touch. General managers aren’t on the floor of the lobby as much as they used to be. Many GMs now stay in their suites and send members of their staff out to poke around about potential deals.

And technology has changed things as well.

“So much is done by cell phone or email or text message, and a lot of the personal contact has been lost,” Smith said.

 

Astros Winter Meetings notes

One thing the Astros aren’t going to be willing to do is trade away any of their top prospects. That’s not surprising considering how much of a commitment the club has made in the last three years to try to replenish its farm system through the draft and player development.

“Generally speaking, we’re going to be very, very reluctant to talk about the young players in our system,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We’ve spent a lot of years now waiting for a group of some substance to show up, and they just don’t show up. It’s a lot of hard work on the part of the scouts and the development guys, and we’re beginning to get there at this point.

“You can’t shortcut the process. We need to be patient with those guys, and being patient with them we have to be reluctant to move them because it doesn’t take a lot of moves to have it turn our poorly.”

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The longer the Winter Meetings drag on, the less convinced I am the Astros will make any deals. Sure, that’s an easy assessment to make, but based on conversations with some in the organization, I feel there’s a decent chance Brian Bogusevic will be the club’s left fielder in a platoon situation with Jason Michaels in the event Carlos Lee is at first base.

“I think we could go to war with the players we have right now and not have to make any adjustments on our payroll, but at the same time it makes sense for us to be open-minded with regard to the structure of our club now because we may be able to free up additional payroll to do something that makes us better,” Wade said.

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Pat Gillick, the former general manager of the Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies, gave some credit to Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith upon learning Monday he was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“He was the biggest influence on me,” Gillick said.

Smith and Gillick go back to their days with the Colt .45′s, when Paul Richards and Eddie Robinson brought Gillick to Houston. Smith was in charge of scouting and player development, and Gillick worked for him as a regional scouting director. Gillick followed Smith to he Yankees and two years later joined the Blue Jays.

The two men are so close they’ve often vacationed together in locations as such Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.

“He’s a very dear friend and we’ve stayed in touch in all his career moves,” Smith said. “He’s a superb guy. It’s a great honor and very deserving. Pat has done a lot of things. He’s been successful with the club he’s put together and had a great reliance on scouting, probably more so than anybody else in the game.

“The thing that separates him is the way he treats and deals with people. He makes everybody feel pretty good and that really inspires them. He works very hard himself and he expects other people to do so. He treats them well and creates a so-called baseball family. I think the results speak for themselves.”

Smith plans to be in Cooperstown, N.Y., when Gillick is inducted next year. That will mark only the third Hall of Fame induction ceremony Smith has attended. The others are Nolan Ryan and former Astros broadcaster Gene Elston.

If you remember, when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Gillick immediately credited Wade for helping put that club together.

 

Winter Meetings may be quiet for Astros

Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith, general manager Ed Wade, assistant general managers Ricky Bennett, David Gottfried and Bobby Heck and the rest of the club’s front-office crew arrived in chilly Indianapolis late Sunday in advance of baseball’s Winter Meetings.

The Winter Meetings begin Monday and figure to bring some wheeling and dealing, but the Astros likely won’t be making much news. They don’t have a lot of money to spend and don’t have many tradable commodities, but you can’t rule out Wade from doing something.

The No. 1 piece of news figures to come Monday when the Astros find out if closer Jose Valverde accepted arbitration. If he did, he’s a signed player and will return for 2010 at probably around $10 million. If he rejects and signs with another team, the Astros get two draft picks.

Yes, the Astros need starting pitching like every team, but they aren’t in the market for big-name starting pitchers because the market is expensive. Wade wants to add some bench depth, beef up the back end of the bullpen and he will explore third base options.

Houston has already re-signed Geoff Blum to play third base and also can put Jeff Keppinger at third, but Wade would like to beef up the offense at third base if possible.

“We like the job Geoff Blum has done us the last two years or we wouldn’t have signed him,” Wade said. “Geoff did a tremendous job for us defensively and has done a pretty good job overall. We just look at our situation, and if there’s a way to tweak the offense a little bit, we’ll try to do something like that.

“Keppinger can play over there, and [Blum and Keppinger] did a good job for us. Both can play around in the infield and help us. Keppinger’s a very professional hitter and did a good job after he came over here. We’ve got Chris Johnson, and we still think he had a chance to be an outstanding big league player, whether that happens on Opening Day this year or down the road remains to be seen.”

The Astros’ starting outfield of Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence is set, and it appears Tommy Manzella could begin the season at shortstop. The right side of the infield has returning starters in Kaz Matsui (second base) and Lance Berkman (first base).

At catcher, Humberto Quintero, J.R. Towles and Jason Castro will compete for the two roster spots, barring some additional roster moves between now and February. There is a chance to the Astros could be in a low-cost free agent to be in the mix.

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